By Ashoka Mihindu
Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week addressed a packed audience of prominent businessmen in the country under a theme titled – Viyathmaga. Many of his fans claim that once he comes into power, our economy will grow by leaps and bounds.No privatisation
Nevertheless, a close examination of his rhetoric suggests that what he is promising is more or less the regressive policies practiced by his brother from 2005 to 2014. He is reported to have said that under his rule no state enterprises would be privatised. We know why the Rajapaksa family is so fond of having state enterprises under the government’s ownership. Numerous relatives of the Rajapaksa family were appointed as heads of various state entities under the rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Nishantha Wickremesinghe, Prasanna Wickramasuriya, Lalith Chandradasa, Gamini Wickremesinghe, Jayantha Wickremesinghe, etc., and the list goes on.
SriLankan Airlines (SLA), which was a profitable entity under the Emirates Airline, came into the control of the Rajapaksa family in 2008. Since then, the SLA has been incurring billions of losses and thus, becoming a huge burden on the taxpayers of this country. We know how Nishantha Wickremesinghe ran the SLA during the previous government. It was ruled like a family airline, and in fact, Gotabaya was accused of messing up with a SLA flight to import a puppy to his wife from Switzerland. No wonder Gotabaya is so desperate to have state entities under the ownership of the government.
Maintaining commercial enterprises under the rule of the government, only works in the favour of few privileged people who are close to the government. This is what we have experienced in this country. State-owned commercial enterprises have become a huge burden on the citizens. So Gotabaya’s pledge of no privatisation will simply retain the existing, pathetic status-quo without giving any benefits to the people at large.
The UNP, the main partner of this government, tried to privatise loss-making enterprises such as SriLankan Airlines over the last four years. Unfortunately, the Executive, who is occupied with extremely backward and regressive ideologies, blocked these efforts.Kick-starting import substitution
Gotabaya during his Viyathmaga address proudly declared he would be pursuing a policy of import substitution which has failed repeatedly in this country. One thing many political commentators have not pointed out is that the policies of the Rajapaksa family benefit the rich, while harming the poor. Import substitution is beneficial to few rich, rent-seeking businessmen. Crony capitalism is nothing new to the Rajapaksa family.
This government once elected, reduced the import duties on canned fish. Canned fish is a valuable source of nutrition for under-privileged households that do not have refrigerators. Recently, a few local canned fish manufacturers called on the government to raise import duties on canned fish in order to safeguard their fortunes at the expense of consumers. Such forces of vested interest would certainly be over the moon if Gotabaya comes into power. Economic policy decisions must be made in the interest of the overwhelming majority and not to please a few rent-seeking individuals.The re-entry of regression and tyranny
A Gotabaya presidency is nothing but a return to the regression and despotism we all went through under his elder brother’s rule which was characterised by nepotism and crony capitalism.